Where does the expression “to bury the hatchet” come from and What does it mean?

The expression “to bury the hatchet” means to settle one’s differences and take up friendly relations.

We in America are accustomed to think of this as an Indian custom; that it was a literal action, after the cessation of hostilities against the whites or a neighboring tribe, with considerable ceremony to bury a war tomahawk.

I think, however, that the practice was merely attributed to the Indian, for I have not been able to find that there was any such ritual or saying among the Indians of North America.

However, a similar saying has been extant in English speech since the early fourteenth century, more than a century and a half before the discoveries of Columbus. It was, “to hang up the hatchet,” and it had the same meaning as the phrase that we attribute to the Indians.

The earliest record, according to Apperson, is in a political song of about 1327: “Hang up thyn hachet ant thi knyf.”

The substitution of “bury” for “hang” did not take place until the eighteenth century.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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